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Homeless fellow humans having a bad karma issue?

The issue of justice arises when there is a central authority, whether this authority takes the form of external abstract (political/legal government) or authority that takes the form of an internal abstract (the mind) where the law of kamma operates.

Both can be used skillfully by being consciously biased using non-harming as a guiding principle. For example, using law of Kamma to interpret reality at the individual level prevents the individual from engaging in harmful behavior by assuming himself responsible (heir of) his actions. The same non-harming principle would prevent him from translating individual responsibility of others to meriting/justifying their suffering (using worldly belief system skillfully). A theory has an explanatory power, but that does not mean it justifies the status quo as the same theory is meant to change reality in a way that is conducive to human well-being.

More generally, any law that utilizes reward and punishment for making people behave seems to be conducive to greed and fear as the main drivers for human behavior. This is why Kamma (both white and black) is described by the lord Buddha as suffering.

Well, actually, although we see karma differently, they do a lot of good things to the ones they love, the ones around them, that is why I call them friends. They do not want me to suffer from injustice in the world. It’s good they sometimes tap me on the shoulder and say: it’s not all your responsibility. They’ve got good intentions but as injustice out in the world is overwhelming, many good people tend to close down the curtains when they come home after work. They want to have some light shining in their lives at least. One can not be helpful to others if one suffers her/himself from what happens to others. I know what they mean. But on the other hand, it seems that as injustice is only increasing, many good people tend to close their doors, windows and curtains to be cut off from the suffering of others. Then I find that this should stop, we should open our homes and face the injustice and act upon it, for the sake of ourselves and others. I do not want to measure karma for the sake of getting a better life for myself or not coming back to this world (although I prefer not to come back). I just care that others don’t suffer because of injustice done to them. Take a young Syrian boy living in my town. His family got shot before his eyes, he fled his country with his uncle, nearly survived the boat trip to Europe and once arriving in a foreign country, he has to fight even more to survive. He did not do anything wrong. He did not create anything that caused his own suffering. Karma is a very mysterious thing to me. I hope it is not another way to make some feel guilty who did not do anything wrong and others celebrate the fact that they must be good as they live a happy life. It would remind me too much of a judge somewhere above that is a very unjust judge. But what I find most of all very annoying is that in the West (don’t know about the East) it’s very fancy to see “good karma” as an individual success-story like all other things: going to the gym, eating healthy, living ecologically - so you make sure to have an even better life for yourself. There is too much “I” connected to karma, I find. Karma - as far as I understand - is not there for oneself, it is there for humanity as we only get out of this trap once all are saved. As long as children get born, we will return to this world, I guess. And still many children are born in the end :slight_smile:

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Thanks all for you very warm answers :heart: I will struggle for a while with injustice & other people’s karma. Guess I have to make my own way out of this. Dear @sabbamitta, thank you so much for your very helpful Sutta-links, they are and you’re very supportive to me, thanks for that :four_leaf_clover:

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There is a saying in the used automotive and machinery equipment business, “The more you look the more you find.” I take that for injustice as well, it has always existed and will continue to exist, such as samsara.

You can easily use it to feel guilty about your life, but then that is a poor basis to address injustice kindly and wisely. I spent two years volunteering in an African village and many of my fellow volunteers got guilt from their privilege and how they benefited from the experience learning from our African colleagues. I am looking to continue working in the humanitarian field and I’ve also found many researchers feel guilt about the inequality as well. The guilt can taint your motivation–only helping people who you feel that you owe a debt to–or make you jaded and you quit or suppress feelings.
Honestly I got jaded, but enjoyed the work and that’s why I’m continuing along this career path. I was wondering what role kamma has, and the suttas that @sabbamitta quoted helped me a lot, it doesn’t matter if they doing materially worse than me due to kamma or chance, I can still help them as long as it doesn’t negatively impact my life materially (since I’m a lay person) or spiritually (since I take Buddhism seriously). This kind of middle way helped me overcome being jaded toward humanitarian aid but not overly optimistic about it, and remain compassionate. I think it’s best to let things be, unless you can actively attempt to improve their circumstances without hurting yourself or others.

This talk by Ajahn Brahmali explains the dhamma behind my view better than I could and is the basis for my view on kamma and chance and helping people. He mentions the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka and some South Asian views on kamma which may be of interest to you.

Hopefully this helps somewhat. :relaxed:

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Thanks for opening an important reflection about exactly how to understand and relate to these things. This certainly isn’t the first time these issues have been grappled with, and while I’m not so into making forecasts, my guess would be this won’t be the last time, either!

Personally, I’d be hesitant to engage with these issues in a consolidated form; there may be some overlap somewhere, somehow, but to try and unravel exactly how would be, I believe, to get caught up in a fundamentally untangleable tangle.

It is good to consider how we may personally be able to alleviate suffering and injustice in ways that allow us to keep our own equilibrium. As a separate matter, it is also good, to consider whether or not it might be so that the actions we perform by body, speech and mind have results, and those results may be of exceptional existential profundity which, in turn, may be used to guide our behaviour in beneficial ways (that said, for myself, I’ve mostly found just letting the principle of kamma simmer for ages with the occasional stir, much more useful than giving it a wrestle).

Anyway, getting to the actual reason I wanted to post a reply, Ajahn Bhramali gave a great talk on Kamma & Rebirth a couple of years ago when he visited London, and just in case some of it helps with your considerations I figured I’d forward it along:


Added: lol, it appears while I was drafting this ZenKen beat me to it (this is the same talk as linked in their post)! I’ll leave this link though as it also contains the Q&A.

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Also, please keep in mind that ‘karma’ is often not used in the original sense - ‘kamma’ in the early texts means action, deed. It’s the input. When we nowadays refer to ‘karma’ people often mean vipāka-kamma, the result of action.

So when people say “s/he has good karma” they mean “s/he enjoys good results because of past-life deeds”. And that’s just speculative, and it’s self-deception to explain my willingness to help by a speculative metaphysical claim.

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When I think back to how much suffering I’ve had as a result of brief lapses in judgement, I come to the inescapable conclusion that noone “deserves” to suffer.

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This is really interesting, thank you for starting the subject!

As a nursing student I immediately started to think about how I’m going to approach my patients. I’m planning to work in the children’s hospital, the pediatric palliative care unit. Not once did it cross my mind that those kids “deserve” to die young, “deserve” to have the life limiting diseases because of some unskillful actions in their past lives. I never reflected whether it is fair or not that they and their parents have to suffer so much. I just don’t find those kind of thoughts useful, not something to help me become more kind and compassionate.

I think the same principle goes for homeless people or any other suffering we go through. To deny a person help just because they “deserve” to suffer goes against all I have learned so far as a Buddhist.

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Indeed. Few people are completely devoid of generosity. Most people, in fact, are at this level of helping some and not others.

“Now what, bhikkhus, is the kind of person who rains locally? Here, a certain person is a giver to some but not a giver to others. Food, drink, clothing, vehicles, garlands, scents, ointments, beds, lodging, and lamps he gives only to some recluses and brahmins, to some of the poor, destitute, and needy, but not to others. This is the kind of person who rains locally. (SuttaCentral Itv 75)

The only way karma and results make sense is if we believe that results can come in this life, our next life, and in any future life. This is one of the reasons that Buddhism minus rebirth just doesn’t work. So according to the Dhamma, there is an almost certainty that this boy did intentional actions in the past that have led to these results.

So we could indeed say that the workings of karma are mysterious in the sense that an ordinary person can’t see things directly. But that doesn’t mean that the principles don’t make sense.

People certainly do think that they must be good if they have a happy life now. However this is a misunderstanding. It really means that they must have done good in a previous life. If we believe that we are good in this regard, then we will not work to do good actions that lead to future good results.

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From the practice view, the Buddha repeatedly exhorted to “subdue greed and distress with reference to the world” (MN 118). If the mind is allowed to run its own course, it will go to themes of either desire or anger (aversion) depending on temperament. This is a consequence of the primal survival drives of the unwholesome roots. The aim of practice from the beginning in breath meditation is to stop the mind’s tendency to internal dialogue and focus on the body (first tetrad), and then the mind (second tetrad), and calm both. The wandering mind must continually be brought back to the subject, curtailing its ruminations on the world, which in not a long time will lead to tranquillity, a factor of awakening.

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If I understand it right - within great respect to you all as well as to Ajahn Brahmali - no-one can be a hundred procent sure about where to make the very distinction between which actions influence a human life and which are due to human conditioning and due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In most of the cases, humans who experience poverty experience also famine, inequality, lack of education, micro-violence, wartime and as cherry on top one natural disaster. And that is why I question this suffering of others. It’s strangely enough always happening in that ‘other’ part of the world. It is not logical that someone could have done so many unskillful actions - neither over the course of different lives - to cause so many catastrophes in one single life. That seems like a very sadistic calculation if karma lets humans suffer together with their loved ones. On the other hand, as some of this suffering is not caused by karma, explaining hardship in life by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, does not clarify either why entire families mostly in so called ‘undeveloped’ countries live many forms of suffering all at once. I wonder where the concept of forgiveness of past actions enters the field of human life.

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I think it’s clear where you’re coming from, and the ethical questions you have are important for our time. Just, I would distinguish what Buddhists have to say about it (i.e. people and their views) from what early Buddhism has to contribute.

I feel that with contemporary questions we overburden the historical religious systems (like ‘How would Jesus have handled climate change?’). In regards to kamma there is a certain science in early Buddhism, but it’s rather prescriptive than explanatory (exceptions are later fabrications in my view) --> do this and you’ll get that result. E.g. behave ethically and you’ll have a sound sleep. Meditate well and you’ll purify the mind. Prescriptions like these.

In this model ‘reverse engineering’ is not addressed. ‘I fell off my bike, does it mean I was unethical?’ ‘My neighbor died in a plane crash, was he a torturer in his past life?’ It’s not that there are more or less good answers to these questions - the questions themselves are in a prescriptive model nonsensical.

Of course I’m oversimplifying. Early Buddhism allows me to make personal psychological observations: Why am I irritable today? Ah, I’m annoyed because my partner thinks I’m lazy. Or, I didn’t say no when my boss gave me a silly task… Then I can break it down to Buddhist principles like honesty, compassion, and self-care and act on it so that I don’t feel irritable any more, etc.

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We understood it the same way. Because as you say, it’s not logical that so many people can have the exact same karma. We can’t even all agree on how much sugar to add to a cup of tea!

If you would like some background on the suffering due to underdevelopment in political science we have decided that lack of development is due to poor institutions. These institutions allow for corruption by higher members of society to making it function, also known as greed. The way to get rid of this corruption? No clear answer! Every method devised since the 1970s has failed, it appears to mostly due to chance events that disrupt the ruling elite who loosen their grip on power and capital. All my friends were mad at this answer, and my Buddhist buzzer went off! :rofl:
The good news is, according to a 2019 World Bank report, the poverty is declining despite greedy people ruling developing countries, likely by chance but we may find a cause in the future.

I would say it enters because you have control over it. It’s an intentional action that generates positive results. I don’t have my sutta book with me that has a few examples to cite, but it’s very frequent in the canon where having goodwill toward everything, if given wisely, can’t have a bad effect (worst case you end up in heaven for a few eons and fall back into the more unpleasant regions of samsara later). Therefore if you can forgive people for intentional and unintentional actions–for example unintentionally insulting someone because you accidently hit a sensitive topic–then you are doing a good action with a good intention (letting go of anger with the intention of building harmony).

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Not sure why this is not logical. If you can say that it’s not logical that someone could have done so many past bad deeds, then you’d have to say it’s not logical that someone could experience so much suffering in one single life. But of course they do.

To understand all this we really need to have the Buddha’s understanding of the nature of this conditioned existence. I’m glad for those beings who are having a happy time in samsara. But this is a very rare experience. For the most part samsara is really, really horrible. Even humans experiencing the worst of human suffering are far better off than beings in the hell realms.

One of the best ways to ground ourselves in this understanding is by absorbing the explanations about samsara found in the Anamatagga Samyutta. SuttaCentral

I think one of the biggest challenges in thinking about karma is not bringing with us any preconceptions based on the Christian world view (if that is our background). Because those concepts just don’t fit in to the Buddha’s teachings. Punishment, sin, forgiveness, redemption. They just don’t track well.

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Yes, thank you, Gabriel. I would second this. Karma was used by Buddhists as a pedagogical tool to convince people to avoid immoral behavior as much as possible, not give them ways to rationalize bad events and suffering. Unfortunately, it’s a natural extension of the concept to start using it to basically say, “Well, that must have happened for a reason.” The original idea, though, was to give people a concrete way to think about their actions and the results they have.

Wasn’t it the case that outside of Buddhism other ascetics were trying to absolve themselves of past bad actions with the self-mortification practices? I seem to recall that, which would mean the Buddhist way of talking about karma was a shift away from the absolution practices. Instead of making yourself suffer for bad deeds, you washed them away with new good deeds.

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The following by Dr Walpola Sri Rahula in his book “What the Buddha Taught” can be relevant:

The theory of karma should not be confused with so-called ‘moral justice’ or ‘reward and punishment’. The idea of moral justice, or reward and punishment, arises out of the conception of a supreme being, a God, who sits in judgment, who is a law- giver and who decides what is right and wrong. The term ‘justice’ is ambiguous and dangerous, and in its name more harm than good is done to humanity. The theory of karma is the theory of cause and effect, of action and reaction; it is a natural law, which has nothing to do with the idea of justice or reward and punishment.

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We don’t know what is in our own or someone else’s kamma ‘field’ or when those seed may bear fruit. All beings are heirs to theIr actions. As long as there is a being in any state, happy or unhappy, there is dukkha. That is reason enough for compassion for every being.

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Ajahn Liem- Dealing with the worldly dhammas

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Yes, they do. But I find it clear that this has (if not all then) much more to do with the karma of others - the ones causing suffering to their fellow humans in this present life - than with the karma of the people that are suffering collectively. Karma is not a punishing tool after all. If we take the example of the recent bushfires in Australia where many families, friends and animals have suffered, that’s the immediate effect of the rising temperatures worldwide due to the fact that some people (a small percentage of all humans) consume much more than they need to stay alive. We might consider that bushfires are as well the effect of the poor attitude of Australian people in the past towards the Aboriginals. But that is exactly a monotheistic view that I find not rational, not logical and not useful at all to make this world a better place. It is making people feel guilty (very useful in a monotheistic society where one God is of course easily replaced by one government) in stead of lifting them up to change something for the better in this life.

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Regarding homeless and giving:

DN33:3.1.95: A person might give a gift after insulting the recipient. Or they give out of fear. Or they give thinking, ‘They gave to me.’ Or they give thinking, ‘They’ll give to me.’ Or they give thinking, ‘It’s good to give.’ Or they give thinking, ‘I cook, they don’t. It wouldn’t be right for me to not give to them.’ Or they give thinking, ‘By giving this gift I’ll get a good reputation.’ Or they give thinking, ‘This is an adornment and requisite for the mind.’

Give adornments and requisites for the mind with love, compassion, rejoicing and equanimity to all homeless above, below, across, everywhere and all around.

Monks also are homeless, they are the homeless above. :pray:

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